A Short History
of a Short-Lived
Glass Bottle Company
(written by Scott Willoughby)
Kansas City, Missouri, in 1900, was a burgeoning manufacturing and transportation center. It was, as Independence and Westport were before it, a shipping point for goods going west. The Kansas City, Missouri City Directory in 1900 lists 8 local brewers, 46 liquor distributors, 15 beer, soda, mineral water bottlers and 20 or more wholesale grocers, the products of which were not only sold in the Kansas City area but to points as far west as Oregon and California and as far south as Texas. At the time, two major east-west rail lines passed through Kansas City, one of them being right behind the Ferd Heim Brewery.
In 1901, Joseph J., Michael and Ferdinand Heim Jr., the three brothers who were the owners of the Ferd Heim Brewing Company, erected a new bottling plant at their brewery in the East Bottoms area of Kansas City. An article in the Kansas City Star on August 23, 1901 stating that a new glass bottle factory was being constructed on the Southwest corner of Guinotte and Brooklyn Avenues. This location is about five blocks from the Heim Brewery. The officers were listed as; president, Joseph J. Heim, treasurer, Louis E. Pitts, and secretary, Harry Rankin. Jefferson D. Riddell and William F. Modes were not listed in this article, but were listed as incorporators with the state of Missouri when the company was incorporated on August 9, 1901.
In a newspaper article from the September, 27, 1901, Kansas City Star, Joseph J. Heim reported that his company was buying forty carloads of bottles per year to supply his brewery. Most likely, the development of the Interstate Glass Company came from the idea that the brewery with its new bottling plant, could have bottles made locally, supplying not only Heim Brewery but the many other users of glass bottles in Kansas City. This would probably not only cut the cost of bottles but increase the income of Joseph Heim with selling a product that so many others in Kansas City needed at the time.
From the August 23rd Kansas City Star article, the construction of this plant was described. They had employed the services of W. F. Modes to be the construction superintendent. W. F. Modes was already well known in the glass bottle industry having been or would be involved with several glass factories in Illinois and Indiana including the Modes-Turner Glass Company of Terre Haute, Indiana. Even though he was an incorporator, he was probably hired not to be the manager but to assist in correctly building a glass plant to the highest standards of the time as other sources indicate he was involved in his own companies at the time. Construction continued until the end of September, 1901.
On September 26, 1901, the fires were lit to begin heating the furnace, first using wood, but later to be fired with oil. Glass blowing was scheduled to begin on October 7, 1901. The furnace had a capacity of between 125 and 150 tons of material and they expected to produce up to 15 tons of glass per day making up to 250 gross of bottles. Local workers skilled in the art of glass blowing were probably non-existent. Glassblowers were being hired from Alton, Illinois, Indiana, and “the far East”. The boys necessary to do the odd and mundane jobs were already hired as laborers during the construction of the plant. A half a carload of bottle molds for beer, whiskey, and drugs were already on site. There were plans to start producing fruit jars in the spring of 1902. Labor and laboring were different concepts in the early 1900’s than we see today in the industrial world. There would be two 12 hour shifts of 27 blowers each with their helpers working 24 hours a day. As this was piece work, the average glass blower could expect to earn between eight and ten dollars a day.
A later help wanted ad in the Kansas City Star for the successor factory was looking for boys 14 or older to work for wages of 75 cents to a dollar a day. At this time it is unknown if the blowers worked six days a week and the furnaces were kept hot on Sunday or they worked a 24 hour day every other week and rotated the day and night shifts to afford them one day off every other week as was a common practice in steel mills of the time.
On October 30, 1901 an arson attempt was made at the factory. A newspaper article indicated that it was believed to have been started by boys who had been dismissed from the factory. That fire was quickly extinguished; however, the fire spread to the business immediately to the east, the storage yard for the Kansas City Lumber Company, completely destroying the buildings and stock with a value of about $20,000. The writer assumes that work was interrupted for a minimum of a few days at this time.
Another fire completely destroyed the wooden structures on the night of July 10, 1902. The plant itself was destroyed, but the existing bottle stock, in another building, was saved. At the time there were about 250 employees. The fire had “incendiary origins” as the plant had been closed since the first of July for the July to August shut down. The plant was rebuilt with concrete and steel and reopened for business on September 17, 1902 with about 140 men and boys.
Maybe at about this time, Joseph Heim decided that owning and operating a glass plant might not be to his liking. The Obear-Nester Glass Company already had a presence in Kansas City as a bottle distributor in the 1902 city directory, and through some negotiations which have yet to be discovered, the Interstate Glass Company was sold to the owners of the Obear-Nester Glass Company of East St. Louis, Illinois. The plant was shut down on Thursday, March 19, 1903 to be rebuilt and opened as the Kansas City branch of the Obear-Nester Glass Company. Michael Nester was employed as the plant manager and Joseph Heim became a stockholder in the Obear-Nester company. The company was planning to double the capacity of the plant to be equal the East St. Louis site and include the production of fruit jars and insulators.
A Kansas City Star article of March 21, 1903 indicates that the Interstate Glass Company had been operating as a branch of Obear-Nester for an unspecified period of time. This is alluded to in the 1903 city directory. Behind the listing of the Interstate Glass Company was “see Obear-Nestor Glass Co”. This same directory gives John P. Obear as the manager of the Obear-Nester Glass Company. The plant was scheduled to be reopened on September 1, 1903 but the completion date for the rebuilt glass factory was pushed back more than a few days, for at the end of May, 1903 continuing rains in western Kansas and in Nebraska caused the Kaw and Missouri Rivers to begin to rise. By May 30th they were out of their banks and recorded as the largest, most damaging flood in Kansas City history.
As the water receded after June 3, 1903 the entire manufacturing segment of the Kansas City area from Lawrence, Kansas through the East Bottoms of Kansas City had been destroyed. The new plant eventually opened and operated as the Kansas City Branch of the Obear-Nester Glass Company from 1903 until the plant was shut down sometime before 1940. The entire production history of the Interstate Glass Company was from October of 1901 to March 19, 1903. Bottle production was interrupted at least twice by fire during that time. Once closed for two and a half months while the whole plant was rebuilt. It was indeed a short history for the Interstate Glass Company.
By using online searches from Google and the resources of the Midwest Genealogy Library of the Midcontinent Public Library System of Kansas City, Missouri, the writer was able to gather the information for this article.
Kansas City Star, Friday, August 23, 1901
Indianapolis Journal, 28 September, 1901
Kansas City Star, Friday, September 27, 1901
Kansas City Star, Wednesday, July 2, 1902
Kansas City Star, July 11, 1902
Kansas City Star, September 17, 1902
Kansas City Star, March 22, 1903
Chanute (Kansas) Daily Tribune, Thursday, October 31, 1901
Jefferson City (Missouri) Republic August 10, 1901 pg 10
Kansas City, Missouri City Directories for the years 1900, 1901, 1902 and 1903
Library.missouri.edu for Sanborn insurance maps
All of the information obtained is publicly available from these sources. There is more information publicly available about the persons mentioned in the
article. The writer did not pursue police records for the alleged arsons of the plant.
From the September 27, 1901 Kansas City Star article, in addition to the Heim Brewery, Kellerstrasse Distilling Company was listed as a would be purchaser of the products from the Interstate Glass Company. My personal collection contains five bottles with the ISG Co logo on the base. Three quart whiskey bottles from local liquor distributors, a slug plate 8 ounce hand-tooled crown soda bottle from R J Holmes and a 7 ounce hand-tooled crown straight-sided Coca-Cola bottle. An interesting side note about the Coca-Cola bottle is that Coca-Cola opened their Kansas City franchise in 1902. This bottle is from one of the first production runs for the new Coca-Cola franchise and the new glass company.
I have many beer bottles from Kansas City in my collection including several from the Heim Brewery and none of them have the ISGCo logo or the pre 1915 logo of the Obear-Nester company. A quick search of Sodas & Beers of North America.com shows a Hutchinson style bottle from the Fowler Bottling Company, Tucumcari, New Mexico with the ISGCo logo. Brucemobley.com has a blob top clear Heim bottle with the ISGCo logo. Other than the bottles I own, these are all I can find right now.
The writer would like to hear from people with bottles, jars and insulators with the Interstate Glass Company logo on the base or heel.
Any errors are unintentional and my own.
May 7, 2015
Scott J. Willoughby
NOTE: the above article was researched and written entirely by researcher/collector Scott Willoughby, and I am happy to provide a venue for it’s publication as an individual webpage on my site! Please direct any comments, questions or additional information directly to Scott! And, thank you Scott for your article!
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